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i don’t go to christian bookstores very often. every time i end up there i always have to call a friend or two to share an utterly ridiculous bestseller title & gripe about the christian industry and the craziness that sells. too many books on the bestseller list about “conflict-free living”, “move on, move up” “the ultimate checklist for life”, “happiness matters: 21 thoughts to change your life” and how to somehow garner and grab “your best life now.” it’s funny but it’s not at the same time. some material i co-wrote in 2007 for women to actually become more honest in their journey is actually kind of like that, too, and as much as i pushed for different statements on the cover that were more reflective of the content inside, the reality is that ‘success sells’ and the marketing department gets the final say (and in my situation the by-far leading christian retailer of bibles studies won’t sell it anyway because they theologically disagree with woman pastors. yeah, you can read more about that debaucle from last year here. they’re the same ones who pulled the recent gospel today magazines from their shelves). sorry to digress, but i sometimes just can’t resist sharing how truly crazy real life in certain circles can sometimes be.
my point: many of us christians have subtly or not-so-subtly bought into the consumer & business culture in so many ways that what’s successful in the world’s eyes has blurred into what’s supposedly successful in the kingdom. so when it comes to leadership, why should i be surprised that words like excellence, strategic, visionary, and results are often at the top of the list? the trouble is that when i read the gospels i see a totally contradictory story being told about what’s important. what we should consider. how we should be. what following Christ will actually look like. what kind of leadership is reflected. yeah, i am pretty certain it’s not the kind the sells. or the kind that wins elections.
what i love about Jesus is he would be perceived by many best-selling leadership books as the worst possible leader, a certain failure. no clearly articulated strategy, terribly confusing communication, horrible picks for his lead team, a tendency to spend an inordinate amount of time on people that probably would never contribute to the organization’s success, and an inability to see it all the way through by leaving before any tangible goals seemingly were realized. when i think about it, it’s all kind of comical. at the same time, the current state of affairs of the church, of the world, really, is that many have a tendency to have expectations of leaders that are completely opposite of Jesus’ model. many want squared away. clarity. a hero. results. a do-er, a mover, a shaker, a builder. someone to inspire & say the things we want to hear. that is what the Jews wanted when Jesus came onto the scene. little did they know they’d get the utter opposite.
this is my mediocre & extremely simplistic interpretation, but if i was reading Jesus’ leadership book, here’s a few things that i glean from his words, his example:
build a team that makes no sense at all to the experts. typical leadership books teach us to find people who are like-minded, who can replicate our vision, and are somehow how all on the “same page.” this breeds uniformity & conformity instead of a diversity that on the outside looks like it would never work. i always chuckle when i look at who Jesus chose for the original 12 disciples: a hodge podge of guys with no education, training & experience. the one thing they had in common: willing hearts to go. as a leader, i have a love-hate thing with diversity. it’s way easier to connect with people who are somehow like me. but it’s not good, either. homogenous teams are knowingly (and unknowingly) perpetuated in most church (and political and organizational) circles; i think that’s because most of us tend to like to be with other people like us & so we replicate ourselves. it makes us feel more comfortable. in a very small way, i am experiencing what it’s like to be on a team that doesn’t make sense. the refuge team is fairly diverse in terms of socioeconomics, theology, ministry philosophy, age, gender, life experience (we are really lacking in racial diversity, though, but hope that shifts over time), and i’ll admit: sometimes it drives me crazy! diversity does make it harder to lead. it’s less efficient. it’s more confusing. but sometimes what doesn’t make sense actually does in different ways we don’t expect if we’re willing to take the risk.
spend most all of your time with the least likely. typical leadership strategies say “find your strong people and pour into them.” so many youth ministries have been built on the same principle–the popular kids will help you grow your ministry so cultivate relationship with them first. in a typical church setting, just find out who the pastors play golf with. the most likely to lead, give & make things happen. when we started the refuge, multiple ministry friends told us that if they were us, “they’d surround themselves with some studs” who could really build this thing. umm, yeah, pretty counter-cultural to everything i have come to believe about leadership because guess what that means? the unpopular people, the less pretty, socially awkward, strugglers, doubters, fringers will always stay separated and underneath the rest. my friends will never get to play on their team. that is messed up. the kingdom is for all. the church is supposed to be the most level playing field in town & unfortunately it tends to look a lot more like choosing dodgeball teams in middle school, the best players get chosen first & play the game while the rest are token participants that everyone somehow tolerates because the PE teacher is watching. in Jesus, we are all equal. we are all valuable. we all have something to contribute. and even though Jesus didn’t completely ignore the typical influencers & elite, he did mostly spend time interacting with his rag-tag group of disciples and other marginalized, desperate, hungry, seeking folks.
radical inclusion will get you in trouble but it’s worth it. women. lepers. notorious sinners. the unclean. Jesus was always including the ones that the system said to separate from & getting himself in all kinds of trouble because of it. imagine if we’d all be that brave?
the lower you go the better. i love john 13-17. amazing words of what true leadership looks like. Jesus, God incarnate, washing feet. giving his power to others. reminding to not rely on him any longer but on the holy spirit that would always be within them to guide and show them the way. preparing to sacrifice himself for the sake of others. going to the lowest of low places on our behalf. in this moment i think of mother teresa & gandhi. great leaders who could have easily followed the path of the powerful, separating themselves from others & rising to the top of some crazy org chart. instead, they kept living out their values in humility & action not just words, focusing on serving in love instead of amassing positional power that protected and insulated them.
give it all, like all, away. any power Jesus had he passed on to the people around him. now you go do it, he said, i’m going to slip away now. you have everything you need. go do it. go do it. go do it. yeah, he gave it all away. all of it.
what’s interesting to me is that even though most every christian would say that Jesus was the greatest leader of all time, most all of us aren’t too thrilled with what we have to follow in terms of his example. i know i’m not. i think that’s why it’s so easy to buy into the worldly/corporate model. it truly is easier, safer, more predictable. and for all intents and purposes, it probably does “work.” it is definitely what will get you elected. or a good paying church job! i do have so much of the old dna embedded inside me and i am sure that is why a lot of the time i feel like such a leadership loser. and yep, by a typical christian leadership book, i am. i am pretty sure we’re not strategic enough, focused enough, certain enough, objective enough, faithful enough, tough enough, you-name-it enough. but i think what i am learning is that most all the measures i used to value are probably the last thing i should be measuring myself against.
all that said. i have deep respect for how tricky true leadership really is. it’s risky to put yourself out there for the sake of others. i feel sorry for whichever presidential candidate wins today because they will never ever be able to live up to what they have promised. but guaranteed, there’ll be a leadership book on the bestseller list about each of them within the next 6 months.
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ps: check out these other interesting & diverse posts about leadership today:
- jonathan brink – Letter To The President
- adam gonnerman – Aspiring to the Episcopate
- kai – Leadership – Is Servant Leadership a Broken Model?
- sally coleman – In the world but not of it- servant leadership for the 21st Century Church
- alan knox – Submission is given not taken
- joe miller – Elders Lead a Healthy Family: The Future
- cobus van wyngaard – Empowering leadership
- steve hayes – Servant leadership
- geoff matheson – Leadership
- john smulo – Australian Leadership Lessons
- helen mildenhall – Leadership
- tyler savage – Moral Leadership – Is it what we need?
- bryan riley – Leading is to Listen and Obey
- susan barnes – Give someone else a turn!
- liz dyer – A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Polls…
- ellen haroutunian – a new kind of leadership
- julie clawson – leadership expectations
- matt stone – converting leadership
- bill ellis – church and spiritual leadership
- beth patterson – new campaign slogan: i am the river?
- sonja andrews – leadership in the age of cholera
- tara hull – leadership & being a single mom
- bethany stedman – a leadership mosaic
- glenn hager – election day ponderings on leadership
- joe speranzella – leadership: this election and social justice
- lionel woods – diversity and leadership
- steve bradley – leading or lording?
- adam meyers – two types of leaders